BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
Pursuit of Happyness the two-hour cure for self-pity over life’s frustrations. Inspired by the real-life television interview of investment mogul Chris Gardner, which later inspired the book, Happyness is about a single dad who defies unthinkable odds in a journey to the top that is more incredible than fiction.
Salesman Chris Gardner (Will Smith) hasn’t seen a commission in so long that his wife (Thandie Newton) works double shifts while they park their son (played by Will Smith’s real son Jaden) in day care. Determined to find a job with a big future, the intelligent, charming, and resourceful Gardner talks his way into a six-month stockbroker internship at Dean Witter, which turns out to be unpaid. Then his wife leaves him. Then he gets evicted from his San Francisco apartment and resorts to living with his son in subways and shelters, sometimes donating blood to get money for food.
The thing about movies based on true stories is that you can never be sure which parts are fiction. Screenwriter Steven Conrad takes several liberties, like inventing Gardner’s wife (Gardner was an unwed dad) and turning his infant son into a five-year-old. I guess we can live with that. But this unforgettable film has a serious flaw. No, not the misspelling of happiness—that’s Gardner’s nod to some day care graffiti. The problem is the ending. And since you already know how this all turns out, I feel free to complain about the stingy finale that cheats the viewers out of our well-earned golden moments. Attention filmmakers: you owe us big-time. After all the hardships you dragged us through—sleeping in bathrooms, even going to jail—you primed us for our big reward. We expected to be up to our necks in happyness. And what did we get? A few closing words of text. What’s up with that? Since you get one more chance on the DVD, how about making it up to us with a more satisfying ending?
Meanwhile, back on the streets of San Francisco, the wrenching emotional twists of Gardner’s life teach us penetrating lessons such as facing adversity, protecting our children, and believing in ourselves no matter what life deals us. The father-son screen team of Smith & Smith delivers a convincing saga that will make you grateful for the food on your table, the roof over your head, and the hope in your heart. And will make your head echo with the message: If that guy could succeed against those odds, we can all achieve anything. B+